The Lady Dufferin

The Lady Dufferin

Heritage Afloat: Paddlewheelers play vital role in Shuswap’s past

Sicamous and District Museum offers a glimpse at the area's nautical past for Heritage Week.

Long before the advent of the houseboat, the paddlewheeler dominated the waves of Interior B.C. lakes including the Shuswap.

Feb. 17 to 23 marks Heritage Week in British Columbia, with this year’s theme being Heritage Afloat, a focus on the important role watercraft played in exploration, industry, security and in linking communities.

The paddlewheeler played a pivotal role in the development of the Shuswap. Vessels such as the Lady Dufferin, the Martin and the S.S. Andover were used to transport people and/or goods, as well as materials needed in the construction of the C.P. railway.

“We were kind of a hub at one stage in the game way back, particularly when they were building all the big old ships that appeared on the lake,” says the Sicamous and District Museum and Historical Society’s Gordon Mackie. “Paddlewheelers were mostly tied to the time they were building the railway, because there’s where they could make some money.”

In fact, says Mackie, the Shuswap was home to the first paddlewheeler built in the Interior. He says the Hudson’s Bay Company constructed the Martin in 1865 to go between Kamloops, Savona and Seymour Arm.

“The Hudson’s Bay did it to service that area because they had discovered gold on the Columbia River and they thought this was going to be the next Barkerville in 1865/66,” said Mackie. “Of course, there wasn’t that much gold on the Columbia, and the surge lasted for about a summer and that was the end of that. Building the paddlewheeler, the Martin, was one of the things that happened as a result of that. We’ve got a fascinating history in this area.”

The Sicamous and District Museum, located in the Sicamous Civic Centre on Main Street, has a large collection of images of the various ships that once travelled the waters of the Shuswap.

Looking forward, Mackie says the society would like to expose people to more local history by way of  interpretive signs that could be placed in the community. The signs would show what an area, such as the site of the former bridge at the end of what is now Main Street Landing, looked like at a particular point in Sicamous’ past.

“That was a pretty busy place in the early part of the 1900s,” said Mackie.

Another thing the museum would like to do is set up a gauge under the current bridge showing historical high water marks.

We’ve decided we have to kind of go out to the public,” said Mackie. “We’d like them to come into the museum, but we have to reach out to the people a little bit more.”

For more information about B.C. Heritage Week, visit